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Glorious US State Parks, Beautiful Budget Travel

New Salem Village State Park

Did You Know About all the Amazing US State Parks??

The National Parks of the United States are well known around the globe, but what is not as commonly known is that the country also boasts an amazing network of US State Parks.

 It may be a little surprising, considering that each state manages its own State Parks, independent of other states, or the national government.  There is such a diversity between the states, and the manner in which each state manages the aspects under their control, such as education, varies greatly. Some states have outstanding policies and programs, and others kinda stink. Yet one thing they all seem to do well, is maintain some outstanding State Parks.

State Parks are managed by the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, an agency of each state’s executive branch. The DNR for each state has varied responsibilities and authorities, which commonly include wildlife, forestry, natural resources, and waterways, but sometimes also include energy, soul conservation, coastal management, geological surveys and historical restoration.  DNRs have a pretty large breadth of responsibility, but the intent of the DNR is that the management of natural resources and public lands be done in a manner that benefits all of the citizens of the state. This means a lot of the benefits come at little or no cost.

It is sometimes mistakenly assumed that the State Parks are only good for hiking and fishing.  Yes, the hiking and fishing opportunities abound in the majority of State Parks, but there is SO MUCH MORE.  Exactly what all that “so much more” entails depends on the individual state.

What could you find in a US State Park near you?

The answer varies a little based on where you live, but here in the Midwest, there is a long list of options: hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, beaches (yes, like real beaches,), campgrounds, historical villages, restored historic homes, mines and mills, Native American earthworks, museums, off-roading, horseback riding, bird-watching, championship trees, Geocaching, cave tours, rafting, canoeing, kayaking.. the list goes on and on.

Some US State Parks we have visited include:

Cathedral Caverns State Park, Alabama, Cave Tour. A US StatePark.

Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, home of the largest known cavern entrance chamber in the world.  


US State Park, Turkey Run, in Indiana.

Turkey Run State Park,in southern Indiana, known for it's hiking trails which wind through rocky ravines and canyons.  Sugar Creek, a favorite canoeing and fishing site, runs through.


Waiamea Canyon State Park, Hawaii, a US State Park.


Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii, known for it's stunning Grand Canyon of the Pacific, on the lovely island of Kauai.  


Coastal tour of the Na Pali Coast State Park, one of Hawaii's spectacular US state parks.


Na Pali Coast State Park, in Hawaii, known for it's rugged Na Pali and gorgeous shoreline, accessible only by air or water.


Matthiessen State Park in Illinois, one of the stunning US State Parks.

Matthiessen State Park, in central Illinois, known for hiking trails through canyons and stream beds, and sparkling waterfalls.


View fromTiny Waterfall into the Sink Hole, Falling Waters State Park, Florida, one of the US State Parks.


Falling Waters State Park, Florida, known for Sink Hole Trail, which showcases sink holes that are millions of years old, and Florida's highest waterfall.


US State Parks, New Salem State Park, in central Illinois.


New Salem State Park, in Illinois, known for the reconstructed historic village where Abraham Lincoln first began his law practice.  


Want more US State Parks??

We will add several more articles about State Parks all over the country over the next few months.  However, if you are looking for a Day Trip this weekend, check out your state's DNR website.  We have posted links for all of those in the Midwest at the bottom of the page.  

In the meantime, here is a bit of information about some of the State Parks we loved long before we started writing travel articles.  

Starved Rock French Canyon.
Enjoying French Canyon at Starved Rock.

Starved Rock, Oglesby, Illinois.

An absolutely stunning wooded setting on the southern banks of the Illinois River, filled with canyons and cliffs overlooking the river, with a very sad history. The park features miles of hiking trails a scenic overlooks, eagle watching, picnic areas, canoeing, kayaking, and a visitor center with several informational exhibits. There is also lodging available at the Starved Rock Lodge, or the campground. Entrance to the park: FREE!


For more information about Starved Rock:  



Wetlands in the Cache River State Natural Area.
Heron Lake Wetlands in Cache River State Natural Area.

Cache River State Natural Area, Cypress, Illinois.

An eerie and unique wooded area, also one of the rare places on the planet Earth to boast four different ecosystems within a relatively small radius.  The extraordinary wetlands are reminiscent of the Louisiana swamplands. The area is filled with hiking and biking trails, canoeing, and hunting. There are also and a wetlands visitor's center with educational activities, championship trees to be discovered, and boardwalks that take visitors right in to the midst of the marshes.


For more information on the Cache River State Natural Area:



Meramec State Park Fisher Cave Tour
Meramec State Park on the Fischer Cave Tour.

Meramec State Park, Sullivan, Missouri.

A gorgeous wooded area along the Meramec River, filled with hidden caves. This is NOT the Meramec Caverns tourist site. This amazing park in Missouri features hiking, biking, bird watching, canoeing, rafting (the best!) fishing, picnic areas, camping, and of course CAVE TOURS. There is also a visitor's center featuring a 3,500 gallon aquarium highlighting area marine life, and a life-size riverbank diorama. Entrance to the park: FREE! Cave tours, $10 per adult, $8 per teen, $6 per child. Ages 6 and under, FREE!


For more information on Meramec State Park:


Indiana Dunes State Park Blowout
Indiana Dunes State Park Climbing the Blowout.

Indiana Dunes State Park, Chesterton, Indiana.

Probably the most amazing inland beach in the US is found at Indiana Dunes State Park, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The water is cool and clear, with miles of golden sand beach, and the dunes are immense. This park features swimming, body surfing, hiking, bicycling, bird watching, fishing, cross country skiing, picnic shelters, and a campground. There is also a nature center and a bath house, for changing. Entrance to the park: $7.00 per personal vehicle

For more information about Indiana Dunes State Park:



Indiana Dunes State Park Miles of Sand
Indiana Dunes State Park Miles of Beach.

At Gypsy With a Day Job, we know that there are amazing things to be seen and experienced everywhere, often right out the back door.  Quite often some of those amazing things are in our glorious State Parks.  Sometimes, they are available to be enjoyed, for free.  None of us should have to let something like a tight budget interfere with our ability to experience our wonderful world, or giving that experience to our children. Visit a State Park soon!

Links to DNR sites for Midwest states:









I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the pictures used for this article are not ours.  We borrowed them from Wikepedia Commons, and the photographer information for each of them is in the image descriptions.  We will always give you this information when this is the case, otherwise, we took our own amazing photographs.

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